Prophets and prophecy are integral to Judaism. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the forefathers of the Jewish people, were prophets. Moses—the giver of the Law—was considered the greatest prophet who ever lived. In later generations, prophets and prophetesses guided the people, chided them when they did wrong and comforted them when things were tough. The Talmud tells us that there were 48 prophets and seven prophetesses of the Jewish people. Now, the Talmud qualifies that there were many more prophets—a whopping 1,200,000 prophets in fact—but only those prophets whose message was relevant for future generations made the list.1

Here is our (somewhat random) selection of 21 of the greatest prophets of all times:

1. Abraham

“And the L‑rd spoke to Abraham: ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace and from the house of your father, to the land that I will show you.’”2 With this simple instruction, we are introduced to Abraham and his seed, who take the central role in the Bible. The Bible is full of Divine communication with Abraham. When G‑d told him that He was planning to destroy the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorra, Abraham pleaded with G‑d, attempting to bargain with Divine justice. When Abraham was worried over his future, G‑d promised him a son. However, the crowning achievement of the Abraham-G‑d relationship came when G‑d tested Abraham by telling him sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, and Abraham was ready to follow unquestioningly.

Yet, as great as Abraham was, the sages say that his wife was an even greater prophetess.3

Learn more about Abraham

2. Sarah

As the wife of Abraham, Sarah was an equal partner in his efforts to spread monotheistic beliefs and morality. Abraham led the men, and Sarah shepherded the women.4 She was originally named Yiscah, but Abraham called her Sarai (“my princess/superior”) because she was superior to him in her prophetic abilities. When she was 89 years old, G‑d commanded that her name be changed to Sarah (which means “princess”) and Abram (“exalted father”) become Abraham (“father of many nations”), and they were soon blessed with a son, Isaac.

Sarah was so holy that her bread would remain fresh all week, her Shabbat candles would burn until the following Friday, and a cloud would hover above her tent.5 In telling Sarah’s age at the time of her passing, the verse states that her life was “100 years, and 20 years, and 7 years.” The sages explain that when she was 100, she was as pure of sin as a maiden of 20; and when she was 20, she was as beautiful as an innocent 7-year-old.6

Lear more about Sarah

3. Miriam

Abraham and Sarah’s descendants made their way down to Egypt, where they were enslaved by Pharaoh. In those bitter times, a little girl named Miriam (which means “bitter”) was born to Amram and Yocheved. Her father was the leader of the generation and her mother was a busy midwife. Determined not to have more children for Pharaoh to slay, Miriam’s parents separated. Miriam divined that they were destined to give birth to the child who would lead the people out of slavery, and she convinced them to remarry. From that union came Moses, the redeemer of Israel.

Miriam continued to believe in a better future, even when her father doubted her prophecy.7 When the Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, leaving the Egyptians behind, Miriam led the women in song and dance.8 And due to Miriam’s merit, G‑d provided the people with a traveling well for most of the 40 years that they were in the desert.

Learn more about Miriam

4. Moses

Maimonides called him the “father of all prophets,” asserting that Moses alone was “chosen by G‑d from all mankind.”9 G‑d spoke to Moses from within a burning bush and told him to go to Egypt to redeem the people from Egypt. Ten plagues and one dramatic sea crossing later, Moses went up to Mount Sinai, where G‑d communicated the 10 Commandments. Moses spent 40 days atop the mountain, during which G‑d dictated and Moses recorded the Torah, the foundational book of Judaism, also known as the Five Books of Moses.

While other prophets only heard from G‑d intermittently, often in a dreamlike state, Moses would speak to G‑d at any time in a most personal manner. In the words of the Torah: “And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the L‑rd knew face to face.”10

Learn more about Moses

5. Balaam

It’s true that no prophet arose in Israel like Moses. However, the sages tell us,11 there was one such prophet among the gentiles. Thus, even though he technically does not belong on a list of Jewish prophets, we will still share a bit about Balaam.

Balaam was hired by King Balak to curse the Israelites on their way out of Egypt. Balaam ignored G‑d’s warnings, the presence of an angel blocking his way, and even the miracle of a talking donkey as he eagerly hastened to help Balak with his diabolical scheme. But instead of curses, all Balaam was able to say were blessings for the people of Israel, including beautiful prophecies about the era of Moshiach. It is from Balaam’s prophecies that we have the famous verse “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”12 which many Jews say every morning at the start of their daily prayers.

Learn more about Balaam

6. Joshua

Joshua was Moses’ devoted student, who “never left the tent [of Moses].”13 When Moses chose 12 spies to scout out the Promised Land, Joshua was one of two scouts who remained faithful to the mission. And when Moses was nearing the end of his 120 years on earth, G‑d told him to select Joshua as a successor. Joshua faithfully led the people into the Land. Through him, G‑d orchestrated the miracle of the crumbling walls of Jericho and the vanquishing of the heathen tribes who occupied Canaan at the time. Joshua exhorted the people to remain faithful to the Torah and to G‑d, and his leadership is recorded in the Book of Joshua.

Learn more about Joshua

7. Deborah

Deborah the Prophetess ruled Israel from under a date tree (tomer Devorah) in the land of Ephraim. One reason for this open-air office was that she was wary of being alone with men who came to seek her counsel, and therefore chose to meet them in plain sight. Scripture describes her as “a woman of flames (lapidot).” The sages understood this to mean that she had the honor of making wicks for the Temple menorah.14

She conveyed G‑d’s message to General Barak that he should go to war against the Canaanites, who had been oppressing the people of Israel. Barak agreed to go to war only if Deborah would go with him. She obliged, the Israelites won (with the help of Yael, another brave woman), and Deborah sang a song to thank G‑d for His deliverance. The land was then tranquil for 40 years.15

Learn more about Deborah

8. Chanah (Hannah)

Chanah was married to a prophet named Elkanah.16 Chanah had no offspring, but her husband’s other wife, Peninah, was blessed with many children. One holiday, she was so saddened that she went to the Tabernacle and wept, silently praying. She promised G‑d that if she would be blessed with a son, she would give him to G‑d all the days of his life. Her prayer was unusual in that it was silent, and Eli, the High Priest at the time, thought she was drunk. When Chanah explained what she was doing, he was impressed and agreed that she was correct.17 In fact, many laws of Jewish prayer are derived from Chanah’s prayer.

Learn More about Chanah

9. Samuel

Samuel was the miracle baby who was born to Chanah and Elkanah. When he was weaned, his mother brought him to the Tabernacle to be raised in holiness by Eli the High Priest, as per her promise to G‑d. One night, G‑d called to Samuel, and thus began a lifetime of devotion.18 Samuel would regularly travel throughout the Land of Israel to judge the people and guide them.

When the people, suffering at the hands of Philistine enemies, requested a king to lead them, Samuel heeded their wish and anointed Saul. After Saul failed to remain faithful to G‑d, Samuel anointed David to succeed him. Even after he appointed the kings, Samuel continued to judge, guide and teach the people. He wrote several books of the Bible, including the book that bears his name.19 He lived a rich and busy life until he passed away at the age of 52.

The sages say that Samuel was equal in stature to Moses, but there was a difference. While Moses needed to go to the Tent of Meeting to hear G‑d’s voice, G‑d came to Samuel wherever he was. This reflected their leadership styles. Moses would remain in his place, and the people would come seek is counsel. Samuel, on the other hand, would travel to the people, meeting them wherever they were.20

Learn more about Samuel

10. David

King David began his career as a humble shepherd boy, scorned and rejected by his siblings. Even when Samuel anointed him and he displayed his bravery by slaying the giant Goliath, he still faced rejection from many—including Saul.

After he was accepted as king, he still faced challenges from many, including his own children. He had problems among his wives and other tragedies in his family.21 Yet, David remained faithful to G‑d, sometimes to the degree that others saw as him as childish.22 Known as the “Sweet Singer of Israel,” David composed many praises to G‑d, including the Book of Psalms.

Learn more about David

11. Abigail

Abigail was the wise and beautiful wife of Nabal, a stingy man who was as tough as a dog.23 After Nabal, who was as rich as he was bad, refused to give provisions to David and his men, Abigail gave them bread, wine, meat and dried fruits, and convinced David not to kill her husband. According to the Talmud, she did so using proofs from Jewish law.24 Ten days later, Nabal died and David and Abigail married. Tradition tells us that Abigail did more than just say wise words, but that she actually prophesied to David.25

12. Solomon

Of David’s many children, Solomon was chosen to succeed him as king. Shortly after ascending to the throne, Solomon asked G‑d for wisdom, and “G‑d gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceedingly much, and largeness of heart, as the sand that is on the seashore.”26 Like his father before him, Solomon wrote beautifully, and he composed the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and more.

A great leader, Solomon reigned over Israel in a period of plenty and strength, the likes of which had never been seen before and were not experienced again.27

Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, a gleaming edifice where sacrifices would be brought and the people would gather thrice yearly to “see” G‑d and be seen by Him.28

Despite his great wisdom, Solomon married many princesses from foreign lands, who introduced idol worship and other elements of their pagan cultures to his palace. As a result, G‑d told Solomon He would divide the kingdom. Indeed, after Solomon’s death, the 10 Northern Tribes were ruled by Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim.29

Learn more about Solomon

13. Elijah

According to tradition, Elijah the Prophet visits every Jewish home on Passover night and is present whenever a Jewish child is circumcised in the form of an angel. But Elijah was a flesh-and-blood man, a prophet who performed miracles and admonished monarchs who did not follow in G‑d’s ways. In a famous showdown on Mount Carmel, he demonstrated the falseness of the Baal cult and the truth of Judaism. Elijah ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot before the eyes of his star pupil Elisha.

Learn more about Elijah

14. Elisha

Before Elijah’s ascent to heaven, Elisha requested that he be granted a double measure of the Divine spirit of his master. This was granted, and Scripture records many miracles that Elisha (often called the “man of G‑d”) performed: sweetening bitter waters, causing a poor widow’s oil to fill countless flasks, bringing back to life the son of a woman from Shunam, and curing the Aramite general Naaman’s leprosy are just some examples.

Learn more about Elisha

15. Isaiah

Best known for the book that bears his name, Isaiah foresaw the terrible tragedies that would befall the people if they continued their corrupt, idolatrous and hedonistic ways. But all was not doom and gloom. In fact, the 7 readings of comfort that Jews read after the 9th of Av (the saddest day of the year) are taken from the latter section of Isaiah. "Console, console My people," he says in the name of G‑d. “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her, for she has become full [from] her host, for her iniquity has been appeased.”30

Learn more about Isaiah

16. Jeremiah

Born to priestly stock, Jeremiah was reluctant to become a prophet.31 Indeed, he suffered terribly for sharing the uncomfortable truth that Jerusalem would soon fall and the people would be exiled. In addition to the Book of Jeremiah, he composed the Book of Lamentations (Eichah), which mourned the destruction yet to come.32

Indeed, Jeremiah lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of her children.

Learn more about Jeremiah

17. Huldah

Huldah the Prophetess was the one who encouraged King Josiah to continue his program of renovating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and reintroducing the service of G‑d. After the king asked her the significance of the open Torah scroll they hand found the Temple, she conveyed the following message from G‑d to the King:

“I will bring a calamity on this place, and upon its inhabitants—all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read—because they have forsaken Me and have worshipped other gods . . . Therefore My anger shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.

But to the king of Judah . . . Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the L‑rd when you heard what I decreed against this place and against its inhabitants . . . and you rent your clothes and wept before Me—I heard you. Therefore I will gather you unto your fathers, and you will go to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the misfortune which I will bring upon this place.33

Learn more about Huldah

18. Ezekiel

Ezekiel lived in Babylon among the Jews who had been exiled prior to the destruction of the First Temple. Like the other prophets, he often painted a graphic and terrifying picture of the consequences of their actions. Yet, he also shared glorious depictions of good things yet to come. It is Ezekiel who shared a vision of the Third Temple, yet to be built.34 He was granted the dramatic experience of the valley of dry bones coming to life,35 and he was then told to join together two sticks, demonstrating the future unification of Israel and Judah under King Moshiach.36

A faithful shepherd of his people, Ezekiel passed away in exile, in Babylon, and there he is buried.

Learn more about Ezekiel

19. Jonah

Known only from the short Book of Jonah, Jonah is best known for surviving in the belly of a large fish. When G‑d told him to prophesy to the (non-Jewish) city of Nineveh that they could save themselves from destruction if they would repent, he refused to do as he was told. Instead, he chose to board a boat to Tarshish. Due to an unusual storm, the crew of the ship realized that Jonah was trouble, and Jonah had them throw him overboard, where he was swallowed by a giant fish.

Three prayerful days later, Jonah found himself on dry land and headed off to Nineveh. Heeding Jonah’s call for immediate repentance, the people complied, but Jonah was unhappy. After G‑d miraculously provided and then withheld a kikayon bush, Jonah finally got it: G‑d wants us to improve because he loves us.

Learn more about Jonah

20. Daniel

Daniel was a celebrated Jewish scholar and master interpreter of dreams who was exiled to Babylon after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He is famous for successfully interpreting the proverbial “writing on the wall”37 and miraculously surviving the lions’ den.38

Daniel is one of the few prophets who wrote his book in Aramaic, the language that was commonly spoken among the Jewish exiles in Babylon. The Book of Daniel has many cryptic prophecies that contain fantastic creatures and dramatic events, which are clearly metaphorical hints to future events.

Interestingly, there is a discussion whether or not Daniel is considered a bona fide prophet. Read more at Why Isn’t Daniel Part of the Prophets?

Learn more about Daniel

21. Esther

The only woman to author a book of the Bible, Esther was the Jewish girl who rose to the occasion and saved the Jewish people—then exiled in Persia—from the wicked Haman, who wished to wipe them out in a single day.

Taken to the king’s palace against her will, Esther used her position as queen to expose Haman as a scheming scoundrel, and her people were saved. Working together with her cousin Mordechai, she had the Book of Esther recorded for all posterity,39 to be read every year on Purim, the day the Jews celebrated after their enemies had been vanquished.

Read the Book of Esther